Who was George M. Pullman and why is he a historical figure?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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George M. Pullman is best-known as a railroad magnate from the Gilded Age.  He is an important historical figure mainly because of his involvement in the Pullman Strike of 1894.

Pullman first made himself wealthy by running a business that raised buildings above street level in Chicago.  He took the money he made doing that and started the railroad business that would make him truly rich and famous.  His new business was making high-quality railroad cars so that people who could afford to would be able to travel in luxury.  Pullman made millions of dollars leasing his cars to railroad companies.

Pullman’s historical importance began when he created a company town, named after himself, where his workers would live.  His town was both paternalistic (for example, no alcohol allowed) and profitable.  The profitability of his town led to the Pullman Strike when he cut wages significantly due to a depression but did not reduce rents so as not to reduce his profits.  His workers went on strike over this issue and the strike eventually paralyzed the country’s rail system.  The strike later turned violent, and over 30 people were killed.  Pullman is a historical figure, then, because he is seen as an example of the “robber barons” who (historians say) got rich by exploiting workers.

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